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March 12, 2013 > Spine Surgery Patients Benefit From New Surgical Suite

Spine Surgery Patients Benefit From New Surgical Suite

State-of-the-Art Imaging Equipment Aids Delicate Procedures

Steve Roach was working at his job in shipping and receiving 10 years ago when he injured his back picking up a box. That started a long, painful journey that resulted in five back surgeries. The pain was so debilitating, he has been unable to work since it happened. But now the Willits resident is back on his feet again thanks to the spine surgery he underwent last September in the new surgical suite at Washington Hospital, which features state-of-the-art equipment.

"The computer imaging guidance system in the new surgical suite provides a clear view of the anatomy, enabling us to place instrumentation more safely and accurately than ever before," said Dr. Eldan Eichbaum, a neurosurgeon and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff who specializes in spine surgery. "With this imaging guidance system, I was able to place longer screws deeper into the bone so that the bone would have a much better chance of fusing correctly."

The new surgical suite features a Body Tom portable CT scanner, making it one of only three hospitals in the entire country to have one. It provides three-dimensional images of the body right in the operating room and works in tandem with the Brain Lab Neuro Navigation system. Similar to a GPS used in a car, surgical instruments have a tracking device on them so surgeons can navigate through the brain and spine using the three-dimensional imagery.

"Washington Hospital is focused on building a world-class program in the neurosciences," Dr. Eichbaum said. "This type of equipment is not commonly found in most hospitals, but Washington Hospital is committed to serving the local community with the most advanced technology available today."

Vertebrae Protect the Spinal Cord

The spine consists of 33 bones stacked one on top of the other called vertebrae. Ligaments and muscles connect the vertebrae and keep them aligned. These vertebrae are separated by discs, which work like shock absorbers. The spinal column supports the body so you can stand, bend, and twist. The spinal cord, a bundle of nerve tissue located deep inside the vertebrae, connects your body to the brain, allowing movement of your arms and legs.

In Roach's case, lifting the box caused one of his discs to bulge, pinching the nerves and causing severe pain in his back and leg. Eventually, the injury required him to undergo a procedure to fuse together two of his vertebrae. Bone is placed between the vertebrae to stabilize them and screws and rods are used to hold the bone in place while it fuses, Dr. Eichbaum explained.

"I was feeling good after that surgery, but then the bone didn't fuse the way it was supposed to and I could feel the screws moving," said Roach, who is 39 years old. "That's when I came to Washington Hospital for the fifth surgery. The longer screws did the trick."

Virginia Phy was also able to benefit from the high tech surgical suite. Like Roach, she was a patient of Dr. Eichbaum's when he had a practice in Santa Rosa, where she lives. Both Phy and Roach were willing to make the long drive to Fremont so they could be treated by Dr. Eichbaum and take advantage of the latest technology.

Trouble Walking

Phy had been physically active most of her life, enjoying outdoor adventures like river rafting and zip lining. But in her mid 60s, she started to have trouble walking due to pain in her back and leg. A few years ago she had a laminectomy, which removes bone that protrudes from the vertebrae, as well as a fusion. That solved the problem, but eventually put stress on the vertebrae above and below it.

"I'm 68, so part of it was due to the aging process," Phy said. "It caused some disintegration of the spinal column.

In December, she had another laminectomy and fusion, which seems to be working very well. While she is still recovering and using a cane to walk, Phy was back to work in just four weeks.

"After her first surgery, she had developed an overgrowth of ligament and bone," Dr. Eichbaum explained. "She experienced a slippage of bone so they were rubbing against each other. Because her bone is very narrow in diameter, the imaging guidance system was essential in placing the screws."

Now that they no longer have excruciating back and leg pain, both Roach and Phy are eager to get on with their lives.

"I missed out on a lot of activities with my kids over the last 10 years," Roach said. "Now I'm looking forward to getting back to work and enjoying time with my family. I have high hopes for the future."

Phy is also looking forward to getting more active, although she knows zip lining and river rafting probably won't be on the list.

"I'm going to Costa Rica in October and I'm hoping to at least go kayaking," she said.

Learn More About Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

The Minimally Invasive Spine Program at Washington Hospital offers high quality, effective treatment for patients with a wide variety of spinal conditions. To learn more about our specialized team of spine experts, visit

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